Sartre’s Cave-Like Ego


Existentialism And Mysticism continued
Jan. ’78

In Kierkegaard, the inner journey into subjectivity ended with a
person discovering his or her “nothingness before God.” In Heidegger,
the journey ended with the appropriation of a similar nothingness–the
discovery of Being-in-the-world, the condition for any “knowing”
whatsoever. In Nietzsche, that nothingness, along with subjectivity
itself, was affirmed. The positive attributes of faith, authenticity, and
life affirmation, respectively, are not found in Sartre. Rather, the
nothingness discovered by Sartre condemned humanity to a kind of
purgatory. “The self is free from all but self,” says Sartre. Here the
self is cut off from everything except from its own nothingness.

For starters, Sartre’s self (for-itself) was a natural extension
of the Cartesian ego. Both Sartre and Descartes were convinced that
the ego was the absolute truth of awakened consciousness. For
Descartes, doubt (and clear ideas) became the all-important
means by which to discover truth, while for Sartre that doubt turned
into a subjective nothingness attached to ego. While Sartre was no
less committed to self-awareness than Descartes, he shifted the
foundations of that awareness away from doubt (ultimately
God for Descartes) to nihility.

Where as for Kierkegaard and Heidegger, nothingness became a vehicle
for a kind of liberation, for Sartre, it shut the ego up within
itself, it condemned the ego to a cave-like existence. Sartre’s
existentialism, grounded as it was in an ego/nothingness, left man
with nothing to rely on, either within himself or without. The path
toward deeper subjectivity could take Sartre no further. With no
escape from nothingness, it was almost as if Sartre condemned man to
the categories of agreeable/disagreeable, — Kierkegaard’s aesthetic
stage of life. His position on ethics, however, became an existential
humanist one, meaning that a “universal good” ought to be preferred over
acts of self-indulgence. For Sartre, man was indeed condemned, though not
in a hedonistic aesthetic sense; rather, he was condemned to be free.
Human freedom, for Sartre, was necessary to account for the movement
from nothingness to actual situatedness. Existence, how we exist, had to be
chosen, chosen from a multitude of possibilities. According to Sartre,
“the human project, suspended in nothingness, projected the self
ceaselessly outside of itself.” Human beings “acted” and because of
this, Sartre was unequivocally able to state that man was indeed
condemned to freedom.


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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One Response to Sartre’s Cave-Like Ego

  1. bwinwnbwi says:

    A change in form is not necessarily a change in meaning, e.g., two means 2, 1+1 means 2, 4-2 means 2 etc. In the same way that arithmetic conserves meaning (logic) the meaning of sunyata is conserved in the b~b~bb structure. The sunyata of “all” begins (manifests) with the ~~b structure, i.e., the structure of not, not existence therefore existence, therefore the “affirmative ideal.” Eventually, ~~b becomes ~bb, becomes alive, becomes existence circumscribed by death. Once again, with increased complexity, in the ongoing liberation process, ~bb becomes b~b~bb. In terms of structure, b~b~bb identifies both the aesthetic component of our experience (sensory/emotional b~b) while it also identifies the theoretic component (~bb, affirmative ideal) i.e., the source of language, number, logic, identity (the emotion/reason disconnect/Sartre’s cave like ego). Structurally, b~b~bb, allows for the confirmation/rejection of scientific hypothesizes as it also separates scientific knowledge from caring aesthetic values—the reduction of goodness, love, and beauty to stimulus/response mechanisms. According to Sartre, “the human project, suspended in nothingness, projected the self ceaselessly outside of itself” and, in turn, “the human project” condemned humanity to a kind of purgatory. Unfortunately for Sartre, he did not see (to quote Goethe) “In your nothingness I hope to find everything,” said Faust to Mephistopheles!

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